Congratulations on your upcoming trip from Austin to Los Angeles and back! You won't need to leave the train once you've boarded, but it's worth knowing how your journey is routed. For the bulk of it, you'll be aboard the Sunset Limited, whose point of origin is San Antonio. You'll be shuttled from Austin on the tail end of the Texas Eagle, which originates in Chicago. When you arrive in San Antonio is the wee hours of the morning, your sleeper car will be decoupled from the train and, after a few hours idling, connected to the Sunset Limited.
How to pack
Amtrak offers a complimentary baggage check, but also allows an apparently unrestricted amount of carry-on items of all shapes and sizes. Unless you have a tremendous amount of cargo, bring everything on board. Pack your toiletries and a single change of clothes in a backpack or duffle alongside your electronics, books, and other items you'll want handy; put everything else in a single suitcase. Besides your usual items, consider bringing a throw blanket, earplugs, and an eye mask for sleeping.
Food and drinks are welcome, and sleeping car passengers are free to bring alcohol on board. You'll be able to purchase beer, wine, mixed drinks, and stadium-grade food in the lounge car. Meals are served in the dining car and are included in your accommodations.
Before your trip, download the Amtrak mobile app and sign in to your account. It’s a handy way to keep track of tickets and check your train’s departure status.
Boarding the train
Unless you intend to check your luggage, there’s no sense in showing up to the Austin station any earlier than fifteen minutes before the train is scheduled to leave. There are no discernible security screenings to endure, and unlike LA’s comparatively majestic Union Station, the glum Austin waiting room will set the wrong tone for your trip. Park your car and walk to the outside boarding area. The station agent will call for travelers to line up on the platform shortly before the train arrives.
Your first challenge - and potential victory - is simply boarding the train in the right spot. Oddly, none of the painted numbers on the side of the train will match the five-digit car number shown on your printed ticket. Instead, the car numbers are displayed on small LED signs next to the lower-level doors. You can safely ignore them altogether in this case, though: since your sleeper will be uncoupled in San Antonio a few hours later and connected to another train, we may safely predict it will be the last car. Walk down the platform (to your left) and you’ll find your attendant standing trackside next to a yellow step stool. He or she will welcome you aboard and direct you upstairs to your room.
Before walking up the stairs, place your main suitcase on the luggage rack. Keep your backpack and blanket and walk upstairs to your room. You’ll have access to the luggage rack throughout the trip, should you need to refresh any items.
Measuring just over six feet across and roughly half as deep, the Superliner Roomette is a humble marvel of design. In other words, it’s tiny. When you board the train it will be configured for sleeping, both bunks retracted. The top-level has an extremely low overhead clearance, making it either invitingly cozy or frighteningly claustrophobic. Seat belt-like straps extend from the side of the top bunk up to the ceiling, and a netted pouch runs alongside the opposite wall. You’ll find various storage nooks and a clothes rack built into the hall-side wall.
As the train leaves the station, your attendant will come upstairs for a more formal welcome. Though not mandatory, a gracious $20 tip at the start of the journey will ensure you’ll be well taken care of along the way. Another $20 as you say goodbye in Los Angeles, and word of your kindness may spread to your return crew.
In better times, this is the moment you'd typically dash off to the lounge car. Unfortunately, however, the Texas Eagle isn't currently pulling a lounge car. Ask you attendant if you can go to the multi-purpose Cafe Car; it's similar to the lounge but the Covid staffing shortage means unpredictable hours. If it's not available, just get comfortable in your sleeper and realize that things will get fun the next morning.
A day on the train
In the morning, your attendant will brew a large percolator of coffee, which you can access anytime after 6 AM in the hallway of your sleeping car. Showers and bathrooms are located downstairs. Head to the dining car (directly beyond the lounge car) for breakfast before 9 AM.
Later in the morning, your attendant will reconfigure your room: the top bunk retracts and the bed below becomes a set of chairs. It’s a great space for reading, but not ideal for two people. You'll likely spend your entire day in the lounge car, interrupted only by meals in the next car up, the diner.
The lounge car
With ten four-top booths, two rows of window-facing seats, and large windows that extend into the ceiling above, the lounge car is where you’ll want to spend most of your waking hours. Rarely is it fully occupied, but occasionally you’ll have to hover around while you wait for a good spot to free up.
The western routes don't typically offer WiFi, so you'll need to tether to your phone for coverage. Note that even on unlimited plans, tethered data usage is typically capped at 15GB/month. If you plan to watch videos along the way, download them to your laptop before you depart. Power outlets are at knee-level in each booth. In the lower level is a snack bar, more booths, and a bathroom.
The diner car
All meals are complimentary for sleeping car passengers. Your attendant will assist in making your lunch and dinner reservations; breakfast is on a walk-in basis. Space is limited and seating is communal, so you may find yourself seated at a table with other passengers.
Arriving at Los Angeles Union Station
You’ll get into LA early Wednesday morning. If you’d like help with your bags upon arrival, Red Cap service can meet you at the platform with a golf cart. Ask your attendant or a conductor to call ahead and set it up.
Get to Union Station an hour or so before your 10 PM train leaves, and make your way to the ambitiously-christened Ambassadors Club, located on the second floor above the ticket counter. The dingy lounge doesn’t really live up to its lofty name, but there’s complimentary coffee and they’ll shuttle you directly to your platform when it’s time to board.
The boarding process will be similar to that in Austin, but unlike the Texas Eagle, the lounge car will be open when you board. Once you’ve made contact with your attendant and dropped a couple of things in your room, you can start exploring.
Arriving in San Antonio
As you approach San Antonio, you’ll be asked to return to your sleeper, where you’ll stay for the short stretch to Austin. Welcome home!